Saturday, September 11, 2010

NCS Portland 2012: What would you like to see on the program?

by J J Cohen

You may have heard that the next meeting of the New Chaucer Society will (following its tradition of convening in beautiful cities like Siena) be held in Portland, Oregon. The Biennial Chaucer Lecture will be given by Anne Middleton. The program committee consists of:
Glenn Burger
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen
Holly Crocker
Simon Horobin
Patricia Clare Ingham (co-chair)
Karma Lochrie (co-chair)
David Lawton (ex officio)
Carolyn Dinshaw (ex oficio)
You are welcome to contact anyone on the program committee, of course, and let them know your thoughts about what to include in 2012. Since yours truly will be journeying to St Louis early next month for the meeting of the committee, you are also welcome to post a comment here or at the ITM Facebook page, send a tweet (direct it to me or use hashtag #ncs2012) so that your brilliant thoughts, break through ideas, tiresome rants and mere opinions are heard.

Here are my initial thoughts. Since Portland is renown for being a city that takes sustainability seriously, a substantial thread on Green Chaucer (or the Green Middle Ages): environmental and ecological approaches to medieval materials. We medievalists have a lot of catching up to do in this vibrant school of analysis. Eco-approaches are everywhere in Early Modern studies, for example, but are just now having an impact for the Middle Ages. Since Portland is a progressive city, and because we need such a thread, a series on feminism and Chaucer studies, perhaps a "where we've been, what next" series. Many NCS members are, I know, angry at a historical paucity of feminist sessions, and Portland seems a good place to start setting that right. Please add your comments, though, to say more -- I don't want to speak on anyone's behalf since this is an issue some NCS members have put a great deal of time and thought into.

What about you? What would you like to see on the program?


prehensel said...

First off, my Captcha word verification was "thrys" which I thought was awesome and germane.

Secondly, about the conference. I'd suggest breaking that "green" thread into multiple threads: perhaps space and place (gardens, settlements, the wild), animals (Karl should have some great suggestions here, I'd imagine), plants (esp. the medical disquisition in Nun's Priest Tale), and maybe even humanism vs. deep ecology.

That's just off the top of my head, but I think increasing the depth of a "green" avenue of inquiry would be good--if only to resist the urge to lump so many different ideas into one thematic junkdrawer.

Anonymous said...

Since Portland is a port city on the Pacific Rim, engagements with Asia and international trading networks might be appropriate. (After all, even its name is borrowed from cities to the east, so considering the eastern engagements of Troynovant might be appropriate).

Or we could celebrate the City of Roses by attention to the Roman de la Rose, and its wide and varied reception.

prehensel said...

Good idea, Anonymous. Also Portland has the Pearl district, so there's that, too.

Julie Orlemanski said...

I think "disability studies" should be a prominent part of the conference -- maybe not a whole thread, but at least 2+ panels. Medieval studies and disability studies are just recently coming into productive contact with one another (see Irina Metzler, Edward Wheatley, Tory Vandeventer Pearman, Julie Singer), and there are many issues still to be worked out -- including, for instance, what is gained & lost in using the term "disability" vis-a-vis a period that didn't have an identical category. Moreover, while the "Bodies" thread at NCS this year included a lot of great talks, the several session topics were relatively diffuse in the issues they raised (in contrast to the focused problematic of the "animals" thread). It seems to me that (we think) we know how to "do" the "history of the body" in medieval studies now, but disability studies forces into articulation some of the tricky historiographical and ethical questions that persist -- what is the relationship between the "enunciated subject position" (Mitchell&Snyder) of the disabled/infirm person and the symbolic significance of that figure? How do we read the variety of sources we're faced with in piecing together an image of disability? How do we think about the "extraordinary bodies" (R.Garland-Thomson) of medieval men and women in relation to animal bodies and the "incompleteness of beings"? What are the ethics of figuration and disfiguration? What is the relation between aesthetics and bodily form?

dan remein said...


I wonder if the challenge of eco-crit at its best isn't to actually deal with all of these things at once--not as a catch all category for the semi or categorically related, but as a way of thinking of entire ecologies at once...what do gardens and poems and medicine and settlement all have to do with each other? what is there relation in terms of bio-systems?

I fear all too often the promise of green readings, like the promise of anything branded green either offers the same stuff rebranded, or, (perhaps more specific to readings in the humanities) picks a theme and then merely speaks about that thematically.

What I'd like to see if a very serious ecological engagement. Not merely how are gardens represented, but how do actual gardens and actual middle english poems come to open to each other (whether this is in ways that are 'green' or not)...

Additionally, one thing about this which links up with Julie's comments is the way ecological thinking lends itself to thinking about the extra-ordinary in the middle ages...

prehensel said...


I completely agree. My point was that labelling a strand of inquiry "green" tends to lead to sessions in which one paper discusses royal forests, one herbs in medieval medicine, one the wildman...they could all be placed under the rubric of "green" but they don't have any real thematic or critical overlap. It seems that any successful panel that you envision would need a top-notch respondent to come back and "place" the papers in an eco-critical frame, to reorient the audience from Merlin's sylvan adventures, fennel root, and the rights of William's deer back to how these engage with and create an eco-critical avenue of inquiry.

As to its connection to Julie's comment, I would love, love, love to put together a panel on the wilds/forests and madness...even if it doesn't really match up with the focus on the body in a modern sense.

Lastly, a plug. I'm doing a paper on the contradictory idea of "good land" in Biblical and Anglo-Saxon thought at the BABEL conference, so if you're going to be there, check it out.

Anonymous said...

I see that Portland is famous for its micro-breweries. Sounds like you're going to have to revisit that Tavern. Or at least get some beery sponsorship (to pay for Ben and Mike to attend?)

(Did I ever tell you that my great-(great?-)grandfather was the landlord of a pub on the Old Kent Road?).